Silver Medal Winners

Plast"E.co": Transforming Plastic into Biofuel

In Perú, plastic is not disposed of correctly, and it doesn’t break down easily, causing contamination. 99% of solid waste disposal sites are in the developed provinces of Lima and Callao (MINAM, 2015)., resulting in only 1.9% of recyclable solids getting processed. (SIAR 2018). This waste damages the super diverse environment and endangers species in all regions, such as the Taricaya turtle and the carachama catfish.

According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática, 70% of Peruvian households in rural areas use biomass like wood or charcoal to cook. However, household air pollution, caused by the combustion of biomass fuels, is a leading contributor to the global burden of disease and the largest environmental risk factor for preventable disease(Fandiño-Del-Rio et al., 2017) Moreover, due to Perú’s geographical diversity, waste collection and recycling are hard for communities in all regions but the coast. Most recycling organizations and initiatives are in Lima, while rural communities are deprived of resources and education on correct plastic disposal.Therefore turning plastic waste into a clean burning biofuel would kill two birds with one stone, helping both the environment and the community.

Our project

In this year’s project, we are bioengineering E. coli to convert PET plastic into ethanol. We will do this by introducing three DNA plasmids into the bacteria.The first construct has genes encoding for PETase and MHETase. PETase breaks down PET plastic into MHET, while MHETase will help us degrade it into ethylene glycol.Then, the second construct has genes that will turn ethylene glycol into glycolate so it can enter the glycolysis cycle and serve as an energy source for the bacteria. Lastly, the third construct has a gene which enhances fermentation in e.coli to produce as much ethanol as possible.

Promotion video


Fandiño-Del-Rio, Magdalena, Goodman, Dina, Kephart, L., J., Miele, H., C., Williams, N., K., Moazzami, Mitra, Fung, C., E., Koehler, Kirsten, Davila-Roman, G., V., Lee, … William. (2017). Effects of a liquefied petroleum gas stove intervention on pollutant exposure and adult cardiopulmonary outcomes (CHAP): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial trialsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13063-017-2179-x